When Rafi Didn't Let Manna Dey Quit Film Music
By Sumit S Paul, The Milli Gazette
Published Online: Oct 24, 2013
With the demise of the great singer Manna Dey, Hindi film music has lost its last pillar of eminence. It's a known fact that the legendary singer was very pally with yet another legend Muhammad Rafi and they loved to fly kite apart from singing. Very few people are aware that there was a time in the sixties when Manna Dey almost decided to quit film music and go back to Calcutta to devote his life to classical music. Thanks to Rafi, he changed his decision and stayed back in Bombay, much to the delight of the lovers of music. This happened in 1959.
Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had heard of Manna Dey and was all praise for his command over classical music. Once he got to listen to Manna Dey's pure classical thumris and raag-based compositions in a programme in Jaipur, Rajasthan. So impressed was Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab that he wrote a letter to Manna Dey. But it was written in Urdu!! Manna Dey rushed to Muhammad Rafi and requested him to read it for him. Rafi read the contents of the letter aloud simplifying its high-falutin Urdu in simple Hindustani.
The letter stated: 'Main aapki aawaaz-o-andaaz se nihayat hi mutasir hua. Choonki aaghaaz se mein is tarah ki mausiqi ka paristar-o-pairokaar raha hoon, meri aapse iltija hai ki aap Bambai se Calcutte laut jaayein aur wahin pakki mausiqi (shastriya sangeet) ki khidmat karein. Ye filmon ke gaane gaana maia'ar se khaarij logon ka kaam hai aur Bambai namuradon ki basti hai. Ise tarq karein aur aap jiske liye banay gaye hain, woh kaam anjaam dein..' (Your voice and style impressed me no end. Since I've always been a die-hard practitioner of classical music, I request you to leave Bombay and go back to Calcutta for the sake of classical music. Inferior people sing film songs. Moreover, Bombay's fraught with lowly people. Please leave it and do what you've been made for.'
Truth dawned on Manna Dey and he decided to leave Bombay. But Rafi didn't let him quit and somehow convinced him to change the decision. Manna Dey narrated this incident on Doordarshan immediately after the death of Rafi in 1980 and wept in the studio. There was no rivalry. Anyone in place of Rafi would have been happy at the thought of his/her rival leaving the scene. Manna also helped Rafi to come out of his self-imposed hibernation in 1964 when Rafi didn't sing for six months as someone advised him in Mecca to sing only for Allah. Those were different times and different people. Now both the stalwarts are no longer amidst us. But their memories are forever with us.